Is Recycling Worth It?

You know to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” But when it comes to disposing of your electronics, paper, plastics, glass and other waste, is recycling worth it?

| February/March 2015

Recycling Center

Recycling the materials you use can save a lot of resources, but placing more emphasis on reducing and reusing consumed items will help pare down our waste streams even more effectively.

Photo by Fotolia/Rafael Ben-Ari

When Donald Sanderson, a former city councilman in Woodbury, N.J., led the effort to make recycling mandatory in the late 1970s, he was called names at city council meetings and criticized by the local press. Irate citizens dumped trash on his lawn. He persisted, however, and the law helped Woodbury save thousands of dollars in landfill costs, preventing the city from having to raise taxes or cut services.

Since then, the public’s perception of the value of giving waste a second life has itself transformed, and recycling has diverted dramatic amounts of garbage from landfills. By 2012, we were recycling or composting almost 35 percent of the 251 million tons of trash generated annually in the United States. That’s 87 million tons of solid waste, or the equivalent savings of more than 1.1 quadrillion Btu of energy — the amount of energy consumed by about 10 million U.S. households in a year.

Dylan de Thomas, editorial director of Resource Recycling, says recycling is no longer just an end-of-the-pipe process to save space in landfills. “More and more, people are looking at a product’s entire life cycle,” says de Thomas, referring to a growing movement known as “sustainable materials management.” “This includes how long a product lasts, what greenhouse gassing occurs during its usage, and then, at the end of its useful life, how to manage the material so that it can go to its highest and best use, such as a plastic bottle turned into another plastic bottle, as opposed to becoming a lower-quality item, such as strapping.”

Sustainable Materials Management

So, is recycling worth it? In short, yes. But, to keep it effective, the way we think about waste must shift away from mindless consumption. Even as we’re recycling more, we’re creating more garbage — 4.38 pounds per person per day in 2012, up 63 percent from 2.68 pounds in 1960. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the total amount of garbage for the same period increased by 183 percent, from 88.1 million tons in 1960 to 251 million tons in 2012.

To cut back on most materials, adopt a BYOC mentality: Bring Your Own Containers, such as cloth sacks or glass jars, to grocery stores for transporting produce, bulk foods, and meats and cheeses from the deli counter. Take containers to restaurants for carting home leftovers. Purchase reusable drink canisters. Try your hand at making your own condiments, body care concoctions and cleaning products. Read on to find extra reduction tips for when you can’t cut consumption.

When you do recycle, keep in mind that some substances are more worthwhile to recycle than others, depending on the energy required to extract the raw material, and the environmental footprint the substance leaves behind. Following is a list of materials, information about the worth of recycling each one, and tips for how to follow the Three R’s in the right order: reduce, reuse, and, finally, recycle.

3/19/2016 5:19:45 AM

Definitely recycling is a worthy method it provides better economic and climatic condition. Therefore so many manufacturing companies are always taking the help of recycling concept in order to save waste products and maintain good economic as well as environmental condition.

2/3/2016 4:49:05 PM

I enjoyed this article and you're so right - REDUCING is key even before reusing, repurposing and finally recycling. Getting the word out there is important, and I think the message is beginning to be heard by many. Thank you for the zero waste link as well as the plastic-free life link, I'll be sure to check them out! ~Taylor-Made Homestead~

9/2/2015 7:30:46 PM

I have over 20 years in the metal recycling industry with references. Working now as a consultant to small businesses and individuals wanting to generate maximum profits. Let's talk. Jimmy Davis

9/2/2015 7:29:08 PM

I have over 20 years in the metal recycling industry with references. Working now as a consultant to small businesses and individuals wanting to generate maximum profits. Let's talk. Jimmy Davis

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